Wednesday, August 4, 2021

Why Giants Software Still Rules the Farm Sim World - Eric Vs.

This is Eric with another essay about video games. Today's topic is farm sim games and why Giants Software, of Farming Simulator series fame, is the only developer to really get it right and turn something that is absolutely, undeniably, monotonous and tedious into something genuinely fun and enjoyable. This video is focused only on console farming sim games. There might be a PC game out there that is better, but ... you can't see me but I'm cartoonishly shrugging my shoulders and making "this" face right now. Keep reading for all of the details after the page break.

I suppose I should also make it clear that this isn't about Harvest Moon or Story of Seasons or Stardew Valley or any other cute games with gardening in them. This is about real farming with big tractors and harvesters and gigantic fields and all that good stuff. Maybe we'll do another video about those cute gardening games. Yeah, we'll probably do that at some point.

The first thing you need to know about farming is that it freaking sucks. It's boring and tedious and monotonous and generally awful. It's also an absolutely vital part of modern human civilization because someone has to produce food while everyone else moves to cities and suburbs and can't (or won't) grow their own. Farmers are genuine goddamn heroes that keep the rest of us fed, so give some respect to those folks that have chosen to do the hard dirty work because no one else wants to. And double respect to the migrant workers, including and especially the illegal ones, who do most of the hardest jobs during harvest season because soft Americans sure as hell won't do them. Seriously, our country would starve without Mexican workers, so why don't we make it easier for them to come here legally instead of wasting another second of thought or another dollar on a big stupid pointless wall to keep them out. 

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Back on topic, though. Farming blows, but under all the dust and dirt and tedium it is also incredibly satisfying and rewarding. So how do you smooth out the boring hard work part and get to the satisfying and rewarding part quick enough to create a video game that is actually fun to play? By not actually forcing you do most of the boring stuff, that's how, which is where the Farming Simulator series massively succeeds and pretty much every other farming game utterly fails. 

Though it didn't really hit its groove until Farming Simulator 15, the core philosophy of making farming as easy and painless as possible has been present since the very first game, simply titled "Farming Simulator", hit Xbox 360 in 2013. This means letting you instantly switch vehicles with the press of a button. It means hiring A.I. workers to do all of the plowing and seeding and harvesting. It means having options to adjust things like whether your crops will wither if you don't take care of them properly or harvest them fast enough or if you need to fertilize or otherwise treat the soil or whether you have to periodically plow a field between plantings. Or options to greatly speed up how fast stuff grows. From the very start Farming Simulator has given players options to make the game as much of a real farming simulation, or as much of a mostly hands off management sim as you want. And that is absolutely brilliant.

Most other farming games either do not have such options or they are incredibly poorly implemented. Some games will let you swap machines, but only if you go through the menu and wait through a load time first. Or some games will let you hire A.I. workers, but they'll either not be visible in your field and will just take a pre-determined amount of time before your field magically changes, or they'll be visible but be the slowest most inefficient and inept drivers possible. Or other games will insist on making you do every step of the process - plowing, planting, fertilizing, weeding, spraying insecticides, irrigation - which is just a total drag. And basically none of the other farming games out there will give you options to adjust difficulty or realism to make the game more accessible. 

Aside from insisting on being real-ass farming sims with no concessions made to make the games more fun for anyone besides real life farmers or masochists, the other farming games share a host of common issues as well. Most of them will either have zero real world licensed equipment, or they'll have very few, and in both cases the total number of machines is always hilariously tiny compared to Farming Simulator's already massive and still growing fleet of real licensed vehicles. The other farming games are also all generally, well, janky and clunky and don't feel very good to play. It isn't as if Farming Simulator doesn't still have plenty of jank in the tank, but compared to every other farming game it is incredibly smooth and intuitive. Other games also pretty much always require multiple button presses to do the same thing you can do in Farming Simulator with one button, which I think says a lot.

What other games specifically am I talking about, by the way? Professional Farmer 2017 and it's follow-up Professional Farmer American Dream are both putrid. They're ugly and have the worst implementation of vehicle switching and A.I. workers out of any game on this list. Avoid at all costs. Farmer's Dynasty actually has some interesting stuff where you have to re-build structures and fix stuff with hand tools, but the actual farming is abysmal and is boring and tedious with few quality of life features to ease the monotony. Real Farm is awkward and leans super hard into being a hardcore sim while offering basically no options to make it easier or more accessible and fun. Real Farm did just get a new, and free, Gold update that promised to improve the graphics and fix a bunch of other stuff, but it's still pretty awful. It's admirable that they actually updated a terrible niche game 4 years after it launched, but the fundamental problems still remain.

There is one bright spot, though, which is Pure Farming 2018. Pure Farming 2018 has visible A.I. workers (though they're dumb as a box of rocks), nice presentation, and some interesting crops and machines you won't find in Farming Simulator, but it also wants to be much more of a realistic simulation with few options to make it more accessible, so it is hard to recommend. I'll be honest and say that I don't really like Pure Farming 2018, but I respect it a lot more than the other trash piles mentioned in this video because it is fairly well put together. It's just not nearly as intuitive or accessible or rich with options and other things to do as Farming Simulator.

All of that is why the Farming Simulator series rules over all of these other pretenders to the crown. Giants Software recognized that concessions needed to be made in order for the game to appeal to a wider audience so they have added a ton of options to make the games as accessible as possible. The interesting thing is that as they have added more options and accessibility features with each new entry, they have also added even more simulation features like crops getting damaged if you drive over them among many other things. That's the beauty of Farming Simulator - it can be as easy and accessible as you want, or it can be an incredibly detailed hardcore realistic simulation if you want. Or it can be somewhere in between. 

For me personally, as much as I love playing these games, I have to admit that I turn pretty much all of the realism options off. I want stuff to grow as fast as possible, no plant wither, not have to plow the fields regularly, not worry about weeds, not worry about destroying crops by driving wildly all over the top of my fields, and I hire A.I. workers to do pretty much everything the game allows. I still have a ton of fun, though, because moving equipment around, buying new equipment, emptying A.I. harvesters and delivering crops to buyers, and just jumping around and keeping an eye on everything and managing it is really satisfying and fun. Not only that, but having A.I. doing the tedious stuff means you have time to do other more fun things. 

Taking care of animals - which requires hauling water and food for them around, cutting and collecting grass, turning cut grass so it dries and becomes hay, cleaning up their waste, and delivering milk or wool - is time intensive but a lot of fun. Or doing logging and figuring out ways to overcome the janky controls and unpredictable physics of having potentially dozens of blocks of wood all sitting in a trailer together. One wrong move and they'll all bounce around and fly all over the map! Or cutting down trees and plowing new fields to expand your land. Or using the terraforming feature in Farming Simulator 19 to totally change the landscape of the world. There is a ton to do in the Farming Simulator games besides just plowing and planting and harvesting. 

My suggestion to new players who want to dabble in these games is to 1. Play either Farming Simulator 17 or 19 or wait for Farming Simulator 22 that comes out later this year (and has a ton of new options and features ...). And 2. don't worry about treating it like a hardcore simulation and turn off any options that don't sound fun and only do the things that you enjoy. There is no shame in making it easy. I'll admit that the first couple hours of playing will be overwhelming and perhaps a little boring and frustrating, but once you start getting bigger and better equipment and can branch out and do the other things that the games offer, it becomes incredibly satisfying and fun to play. My 3rd suggestion to to use mods to get new equipment, new maps, infinite money, and a whole bunch of other stuff that can make the game even more fun. Farming SImulator 17 and 19 both have tons of mods available, so take advantage of them. It has to be noted that Sony treats mods differently than Microsoft does, so mods on PS4 are pretty limited compared to mods on Xbox systems, so I recommend playing Farming Simulator on Xbox.

To conclude: Farming Sim games can be very fun, but they are not all created equally. The Farming Simulator series is the biggest and best and the most fun and the only games I recommend for a reason - they offer a wealth of options and quality of life features to adjust the game to your liking that other games simply cannot match. They will satisfy you whether you want something relatively easy and accessible or a hardcore realistic simulation. You can play however you want and do whatever you want and eventually you'll be hooked, so give them a try.

Thank you for watching our look at farming sim games and why Giants Software's Farming Simulator series still dominates over all challengers. Please like and subscribe for more long form video essays just like this one.